How to prepare children for going back to school as lockdown lifts

If we feel like the last year has been a long and confusing slog, think about what it must have been like for children, for whom a year can feel like a lifetime.

For adults, a year flashes by but for a child, it’s a whole era of development, life events, discoveries and memories that shape them for life.

Covid-19 has disrupted routines in ways no-one could ever have forseen and parents and caregivers have been doing their best to juggle home life, careers, lockdown rules and home schooling their children.

Across the months, children have been ping ponged between being at school, being at school socially distanced, sent home, sent back and so on and so forth.

It’s confusing, frustrating and while missing out on education can be something that is solved, the psychological and emotional minefield is a little harder to navigate.

For many children, going back to school and seeing their friends and teachers will be exciting and for others it will be overwhelming and terrifying.

It’s getting to that stage where parents and children are having to prepare for the next transition in this journey – and believe me when I say that children are stronger than we give them credit for and are very good at bouncing back.

However, they will need your support, as there will be challenges. Going back to a school environment has huge benefits. It will give the children a sense of routine, purpose and normality and being around others of the same age again will do wonders for their development.

But that transition won’t be instant – so be prepared for a rollercoaster of emotions which could range from tantrums to hyperactivity and worry to exhaustion. Go with it – it’s to be expected and the ultimate thing you can do is give optimism and positivity, focus on the exciting aspects of being back and listen to and validate any fears your child opens up about, big or small.

In Scotland, younger age children have already returned to school and one reassurance parents can take away is that, according to teachers, the response to the environment has been overwhelmingly positive.

One teacher, Fiona Ellison, who teaches children aged between eight and nine, tells ‘We basically just help them adjust by getting back into the usual routine and doing a lot of nurture and health and wellbeing to reconnect.

‘We would do things like play outdoors and do activities around being back at school as well as reflecting on what lockdown was like for them.

‘The kids were delighted to be back! They were just so happy to see everyone else in the class.’

But what can you do to help prepare them for this? As well as reassuring yourself that you have done a great job and knowing that children adapt to returning to normality quicker than we do due to their resilience, there are some practical steps.

Talk to your little one about returning to school

Ask them how they feel. Are they excited, nervous, unsure?

Really listen to their responses and don’t treat your children as wrong for whatever they feel.

Depending on what they say, offer them practical advice but also loving reassurance. Focus on all of the positives that will come from it, remind them that all children are facing the same thing and that teachers will understand how they feel.

Also reassure them of how safe it is; that home testing is available and nothing to be scared of. Act positive and explain why school is safer now – don’t dodge around coronavirus, as it’s impossible to shield children from it, but explain the world is very different now than it was a year ago.

Ask the school for their action plan

Ask the school what the plan is for a safe return – every school will have planned this and staff will be back in the buildings for several days before your children going over the implementation.

Parents have a right to know what to expect and so do the children, so teachers will expect to hear from you – you aren’t bothering them by asking what your child should expect.

The fewer surprises for your child, the better, so spend a lot of time going over what’s going to be different at school for a while, why it’s that way and why it is nothing to worry about.

Keep communication with teachers open

Let the teacher know if your child is unsure – teachers are there to work with you and they will be perfectly aware that some children will adapt naturally and be positively beaming to be back, while others will have anxiety and fears.

Give the teacher the heads up on what your child has said to you and anything you notice.

If your child is made to feel nurtured and protected both at home and at school, then the anxieties will pass once they experience firsthand – at first with their hand held – what they have been worried about.

Get back into a routine

Get back into a routine a few days before – get up at school time, have breakfast and practise the school run. This will get them both used to the idea and may even build anticipation and excitement for it.

Let children talk to their friends beforehand

Set up a Zoom call, especially with children who haven’t seen each other in a long time.

Children can be awkward or shy even with their closest friends as the time away has felt so long for them. So break the ice beforehand.

Shop for supplies

Go online and let them pick something new for school that they can show their friends. You could double sell it both as a well done treat for how well they have been doing and also as a way of building excitement for school.

Let them know their new stationery is special and just for school – this makes it more exciting.

Create a project

Go through a project with your child for them to show their teacher what they did during lockdown – especially the fun stuff.

Reflect on how it has been a positive experience, not a waste of time, and go over what they have learned and how they have developed.

It gives them plenty to talk about with their teachers, reminding them of things they might have forgotten.

The key is open discussion, reassurance, expecting various outcomes and being prepared for some more disorientation. Like the rest of the world, there is light at the end of the tunnel for our children and we will get there.

Parents and children have coped amazingly well with a situation nobody prepared them for – you’ve got this far; this next step to normality is something you have got under control.

Don’t do it alone, seek your own space, lean on family, friends and partners for support. And be proud of yourself and your child for another massive win.

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